by Patrick Bilow

Herald Reporter

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Lake County, with more cases than the county saw in Novemeber of last year, the Lake County Public Health Agency is urging that all eligible populations get vaccinated, including ages five to 11, a group that received approval for immunization earlier this month.

As of Nov. 24, Lake County was categorized as experiencing high levels of community transmission, with 24 new cases emerging throughout the county during the previous week, reported Lake County Public Health Agency (LCPHA) Director Colleen Nielson, who regularly updates the Board of County Commissioners on the state of COVID-19 in Lake County.

Lake County’s positivity rate of 10.99 percent is trending above of the statewide average, which reported a 9.26 positivity rate over seven days on Nov. 24. Nielson said that while some breakthrough cases have been recorded in Lake County, the majority (about 70 percent) of new cases are among unvaccinated populations. Several instances of transmission within families have also occurred.

Currently, about 70 percent of Lake County’s population has received two doses of a vaccine with about 80 percent receiving only one dose, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). A significant portion of people in Lake County have also received a third booster dose. Nielson said the percentage of people who have received a vaccination does not include about 675 children aged five to 11 who have received one dose.

The rollout of vaccines for children in Lake County began about a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for ages five to 11 on Nov. 2. Since then, LCPHA has partnered with various local entities to host children’s vaccine clinics. On Nov. 13, about 87 children received their first dose of the vaccine at Colorado Mountain College (CMC). On Dec. 11, the college will host another clinic for second doses.

CDPHE will also offer pediatric vaccine clinics at the Lake County Public Library this month. The clinic for initial doses is on Dec. 3 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Second doses will be offered on Dec. 31 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nielson said LCPHA is exploring other clinic options for the near future, like Colorado’s mobile vaccine clinic, which has visited Lake County before.

Nielson said that the first vaccine event at CMC went well, with some crying among children. The director added that it’s too early to tell how children will react to the second dose, which is known to cause fatigue and other mild symptoms in adults. Nielson said some studies suggest that the second dose is more mild for children. She also suspects that many parents in Lake County are waiting to immunize their children until the vaccine is more commonplace.

Despite the approval of vaccines for children and increased immunization rates throughout Colorado, hospitals across the state are running out of space. According to Nielson, roughly 6,000 transfers of COVID-19 patients have occurred throughout the state. Major hospitals on the Front Range, like UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs, are discharging a handful of patients every week.

In Lake County, Nielson said staffing shortages at St. Vincent Health have created difficulties in addressing Lake County’s surge in cases. In addition, the hospital can only admit three patients at a time. While Front Range hospitals have not yet turned down patients from Lake County, Nielson told the Herald that the county is becoming increasingly reliant on distant hospitals.

In response to the local rise in cases, local governments are enacting mask mandates. As of Nov. 22, masks are required at the Lake County Courthouse regardless of vaccination status. Mayor Greg Labbe said the City of Leadville will likely follow suit this week, although with a mask mandate for unvaccinated individuals and mandatory weekly testing.

“We are really back to basics in that we recommend everyone wear a mask at indoor public gatherings,” said Nielson. “As the holidays approach, do your best and keep the safety of others in mind.”

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